Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

21 August 2014

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

21 August 2014
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General Travel

The Secretary-General will depart on Tuesday, 26 August, on a three-country trip which will take him to Indonesia, Samoa and New Zealand.

His first stop will be Bali, Indonesia, where he will attend the Sixth Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations.  The Secretary-General will also meet with Indonesia’s President [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono], as well as with other leaders during the Forum.

On Friday, 29 August, the Secretary-General will depart Bali for Apia, Samoa, for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States.  And he will address the opening plenary session of the Conference on 1 September.

And while in Samoa, he will hold bilateral meetings with leaders attending the Conference and meet with Samoan people driven from their homes by climate change.

And in a short while, I will be joined by Wu Hongbo, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and he’s also the Secretary-General of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS).  And he will discuss the upcoming SIDS Conference and obviously the Secretary-General’s participation.

From Samoa, the Secretary-General will travel to New Zealand, where he will receive an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Auckland and give a lecture.

He will also meet with Prime Minister John Key and other New Zealand officials.

The Secretary-General will arrive in New York on the evening of 3 September.

**Secretary-General Appointment

Following consultations with the Executive Board of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Secretary-General is pleased to reappoint Dr. Babatunde [Osotimehin] as the Executive Director of UNFPA.  The Secretary-General noted his appreciation for UNFPA’s progress in effective management for results, especially for the most disadvantaged women and adolescent girls.

**Security Council

Here, this morning in the Security Council, as you know, is holding an open debate on conflict prevention, adopting a resolution reaffirming the duty of all States to settle international disputes peacefully.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General noted that one of his core priorities is improving the United Nations’ ability to act early and act preventively.

He said that events around the world today clearly demonstrate the changing nature and complexity of contemporary conflict.

The Secretary-General said that the Security Council, which bears the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, has a unique responsibility.

He emphasized that when Member States join forces, we can achieve much, with the Council’s consensus on removing chemical weapons from Syria being one recent case in point.

Also addressing the debate was Navi Pillay, in her last briefing to the Council as High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Secretary-General paid tribute to her, saying that she tells it like she sees it and that she has spoken forthrightly on issues that some have wished to avoid.  And the Secretary-General’s full remarks are available online and in my office, as are the remarks of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


Turning over to Ebola, the UN System Coordinator for Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, arrived today in Monrovia, Liberia, the first leg of his visit to all countries affected by the virus.

Karin Landgren, the Head of the UN Mission in that country [UNMIL], said this visit underscored the UN’s commitment to rolling back the deadly virus.

The UN Mission in Liberia has reoriented several parts of its operations to support the Government in the fight against Ebola.  It is leading a crisis logistics team at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, and providing support to Superintendents and County Health Teams in every county.

UNMIL Radio and the Mission’s outreach team are also disseminating information on Ebola prevention and response, with UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

Karin Landgren stressed that Ebola’s impact now extends far beyond the families and communities of those infected with the virus, and poses a threat to broader public health, food security, physical security, and the national economy of Liberia.

If we are to preserve the gains made over the last 11 years of peace in Liberia, Ebola must quickly be stopped, she added.

And continuing with our Ebola update, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the total number of cases in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone have reached 2,473, and the number of deaths at 1,350, according to WHO.

Some of these countries are starting to experience supply shortages, including fuel and food, following the decision of many companies to suspend deliveries.

WHO is working with the World Food Programme to ensure adequate food and supplies reach people in need, but calls on all private companies to make business decisions based on scientific evidence with regard to the transmission of the Ebola virus.

Companies bringing goods and services to the affected countries are at low risk of exposure to Ebola and the World Health Organization, under the International Health Regulations, encourages companies and organizations to continue providing these necessary supplies.

** Ukraine

Moving on to Ukraine, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, arrived in Ukraine today on a four-day mission.

Today in Kyiv, she met with Prime Minister [Arseniy] Yatsenyuk and other Government officials.  Ms. Amos thanked the Government for its fruitful collaboration with the United Nations and called for the fostering of a more enabling environment for humanitarian action.

She is expected to visit eastern Ukraine later during her visit to see first hand the humanitarian situation of people in the areas impacted by the current fighting.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Feltman, the head of the Political Affairs Department, is also continuing his visit to the same country.

Yesterday, he met with President Petro Poroshenko, reiterating the Secretary-General’s concern over the situation in eastern Ukraine and his hope for a peaceful political [solution] to the conflict to save lives and avoid a humanitarian crisis.

** Gaza

Moving onto Gaza, I know a number of you have heard the briefing by the head of the UNICEF Field Office in Gaza, but I would add that the Head of the OCHA office in the occupied Palestinian territory, Ramesh Rajasingham, called today for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

He emphasized that civilians cannot keep moving between their homes and shelters each time conflict renews, adding that it is especially traumatizing for children.

Mr. Rajasingham said that it is also extremely difficult for them to save lives and to protect and assist those in need.

In the long run, he said, a permanent halt in violence stemming from a durable ceasefire is crucial to mitigating the humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of Palestinians have returned to shelter in schools in Gaza.  Nearly 280,000 people are now taking refuge in UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools.

And we have more information available on the UNRWA website.

** Syria

And from Syria, OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says that as of today, the United Nations has sent eight shipments to Syria pursuant to last month’s Security Council resolution.

Six of the shipments were from Turkey, four of them through the Bab al-Salam crossing and two through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.  The other two were from Jordan through the Al-Ramtha crossing.

These shipments included food assistance for nearly 70,000 people and medical supplies for some 190,000 people in Aleppo, Idleb, Quneitra, Lattakia and Dar’a Governorates.

All of the shipments crossed without incident and distribution of relief supplies is ongoing.

For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today that a $45 million donation from Kuwait has saved the lives and addressed the health needs of millions of people affected by the conflict in Syria.

And we have more information on the World Health Organization’s website.

** Iraq

And from Iraq, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that testimonies gathered from civilians who fled the recent violence in Sinjar have revealed appalling accounts of killing, abduction and sexual violence perpetrated against women and children.

UNICEF says that the type and scope of the violence against children, women and minority communities in Iraq in the past few weeks is one of the worst seen this century.

The agency has also documented 123 separate cases of rights violations carried out by armed groups against Yazidi and other minority groups in Ninewa, close to the border with Syria.

UNICEF has provided psychosocial care and support to more than 3,000 distressed displaced children now sheltering in Dahuk, in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

**South Sudan

And from South Sudan, the UN Mission in that country [UNMISS] says that an unknown number of civilians, fleeing shelling in the area of Dolieb Hill in the Upper Nile State, have arrived at the Mission’s protection site in Malakal.  Currently, UNMISS is protecting more than 17,000 civilians at that site.

Also in Unity State, mortar shelling was reportedly heard in Bentiu close to the UNMISS base.  No casualties were reported, but over 40,000 displaced people are sheltering at the UN base that area.

And UNMISS continues to urge all parties to immediately cease their military operations, fully cooperate with the Mission’s protection of civilians mandate, and engage in a meaningful dialogue to advance the political process.

Also on South Sudan, OCHA says that aid workers at sites for displaced people in Bentiu, Unity State, have resumed operations today following the scaling down following a recent attack on a female aid worker.

** Darfur

And just from Sudan, the AU-UN joint Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) received information from local sources about recurrence of violent clashes yesterday in Um Rakuba area, about 65 kilometres south-east of El Daein, in East Darfur.  Dozens of people were reportedly killed as a result of heavy exchange of fire.

The Mission has engaged the State authorities to urge them to reinforce the Government forces in the buffer area created one year ago to prevent clashes, and to explore ways to support any form of reconciliation between warring tribes.

I think that is it for me, except for Nizar.  Just to answer the question you had asked about Sheikh al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia.

We are aware of the ongoing trial against Shia cleric Sheikh al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, with a hearing reportedly scheduled in the coming days.  As in all judicial proceedings, we urge the authorities to observe all guarantees of due process and fair trial, in line with international human rights standards.

I have spoken quite bit and enough.  Masood?  Can you please use the microphone, Masood?

Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, in view of ISIS’ horrendous activities in what they have been doing, what they have been promising to do, I mean, has, will the international community, Secretary-General, at some point in time go to the genesis of the creation of this ISIS which is basically done to undermine Syria?  And now it has become a threat to international peace and security.  So this organization has to be tackled at that level.  Does the Secretary-General intend to meet with Member States to talk about that?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, the Secretary-General has been very clear in his condemnation of the activities of the Islamic State, of ISIS, throughout the region, especially the attacks on minorities that we have seen, the attacks on women and children.  And I think these are the issues that also the Security Council has spoken about and is very relevant to today’s discussion in the Security Council on the maintenance of international peace and security.

Question:  A follow-up on that?

Spokesman:  Yes, please.

Question:  Of course, we are addressing the root causes of the ISIS thing, has to be addressed ideologically.  We talked about this earlier, but it is still very urgent, I mean, that this issue be tackled especially the Saudis are having this counter‑terrorism office.  2,200 mosques are teaching this worldwide.

Spokesman:  Nizar, Nizar, I’m always happy to engage in intellectual discussions about the root causes or where things come from, but if you can just focus on the question you would like to ask me.

Question:  The question is:  how… shouldn’t there be a call to have a conference or some kind of discussion on this basic issue?

Spokesman:  I think the issue of terrorism and how to counter terrorism is one that the UN is fully seized of through the various centres, through the committees and through the work of the Security Council.  So I think it is an issue that we are well aware of and that I think the UN as a whole is working on.

Question:  But never the Wahabi, I mean.

Spokesman:  Let’s move on.  Ivan?

Question:  Thank you.  On Ukraine, Russia has asked the Security Council to adopt a statement and demanding to stop fighting on both sides, to deliver aid to eastern Ukraine, to Lugansk, safely.  What is the Secretary General’s position on that?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, the Security Council will decide what, the course of action on its own.  I think the message that the Secretary-General has talked about publically, the message that the Under-Secretary-General is delivering, Mr. Feltman, is delivering in Ukraine is for a negotiated and a ceasefire and a diplomatic solution to be found, so that also is as we see so that aid can reach those who need it.  Matthew, and then Benny.

Question:   Sure,  I wanted, I understand that Mr. Nabarro is in Monrovia, but I wanted to ask you a question that it seems that there is a neighbourhood there that has been entirely quarantined called West Point and the reports that yesterday the Liberian authorities used live fire to enforce the quarantine protesters.  So one, I wanted to know, not just is there a UN comment on the use of live fire against this quarantine, but are these units of the Liberian Army or police to which UNMIL provides support, is this, would this be covered, in turn, by this human rights due diligence policy and review of support to units firing at protesters?

Spokesman:  The UN mission, forces, are not directly involved in the, they are not directly involved in the quarantine operations, the ones that you mention of.  We would expect, of course, as in all cases for the forces of, security forces to abide by international standards in dealing with situations like these.

Question:  But does UNMIL engage in, sort of, in training?  I think there is a lot of talk about the mission of UNMIL has been to actually work with these units, so I know that in other, like… that they keep supporting this.

Spokesman:  It’s the Government of Liberia that bears the primary responsibility for security and for the protection of its population.  Mr. Avni and we will move on.

Question:  Stop me if you…

Spokesman:  If I could I would, yes.

Question:   Stop me if you heard this before.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the killing today of three Hamas commanders?

Spokesman:  You know, looking at the situation, as, looking at the situation as a whole, the Secretary-General and others in the UN system have strongly condemned the breach of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire.  We are obviously extremely concerned at this breakdown and the return of hostilities.  I think it’s… we reiterate our call for the negotiations in Cairo to resume.  Since the resumption, since the breach of the ceasefire, we have seen a return of people dying.  We have seen a return of people suffering.  The Secretary-General is, in the course of today and tomorrow, going to spend quite some time on the phone, speaking to key international players, to regional leaders, to work with the international community to get the negotiations back on track.

Question:  Just to follow‑up on that, yesterday, you were saying something about extrajudicial killing.  Could you apply this to this?  Is this…

Spokesman:  I think, you know…

Question:  Is this something that the UN considers illegal, immoral?

Spokesman:  I think what we are looking for is a return to the negotiating table and for the violence to stop.

Question:  I have two questions.  First, there is a draft resolution introduced by Jordan and the Permanent Representative of UK yesterday said the Security Council is back to discuss this draft resolution, if you have any update on that.  And my second question, the UNICEF representative just said that, in the last 48 hours, nine Palestinian children were murdered and killed by the Israeli shelling.  Nine children, nine lives, innocent lives, not worth the attention of the Secretary to issue a statement condemning the killing of nine children in the last 48 hours?

Spokesman:  You know, on the first, on your first question, you have to talk to Security Council.  On the premise of your second question, that is, I think it is unfair and a misreading of the Secretary-General.  If you look past, in the past weeks since this conflict has begun, the Secretary-General has spoken forcefully and emotionally at the loss of life.  And these are nine lives that maybe would not have been lost had the negotiations not broken down.  And so we reiterate our call for the parties to return to Cairo and return to the table.  Evelyn?

Question:  Just to clarify on Ukraine, the question that everyone is talking about who is going to…

Spokesman:  Microphone, please.

Question:  Could you, thank you, Stéph.  Could you kindly clarify in the Ukraine, the question on everyone’s mind is the Russian trucks at the border.

Spokesman:  Right.

Question:  The Ukraine has let some in.  Is the UN going to help inspect them or distribute, is the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] involved?  Where is that?

Spokesman:  We are following this issue of the convoys extremely closely and the ICRC is in the lead on this, is in touch closely with the Russian authorities and the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that aid gets delivered.  But it is the ICRC who will be handling the issue of the convoy.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  About Gaza, with the UN office, with the UNICEF office we talked also about the responsibilities to protect the children and civilians and she talked about the different layers, she called it of authority to have responsibility to protect those civilians there.  What I understand, before I went to vacation, and the Secretary-General was in the Middle… was in the area, was able with the help of others to reach this ceasefire and was a way to protect civilians because for some weeks we had, we didn’t have any more of the shelling.

Now, in the last 48 hours, this is again there.  So my question is:  If in the next hours, days we are not able to gain to reach a ceasefire or something, what is the next step to assure the responsibility to protect?  And, if so, the question is the Security Council should consider its options, Chapter 6, 7, 8, should the Secretary-General write or have the… have the Security Council be involved in the responsibility to protect those civilians?  Thank you?

Spokesman:  You know, the, your question was quite long.  I’m trying to, the Secretary-General has spoken out for the need to return to the negotiating table.  The Security Council is obviously seized of the matter.  It’s a matter on its agenda.  It is a matter which they are discussing.  They will have to take the decisions they need to take.  As you may be aware, I think late last month, there was a letter from President Abbas on the issue of the protection of the Palestinian people.  That letter has been received by the Secretary-General and is being studied very thoroughly.  And if I have more to say on that I will share it with you.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On the letter, a follow‑up to Stefano’s question, is a month not too long to study a letter for protection of civilians?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You know, I enjoyed your glib question.  But these are very, very important issues.  These are very important issues for the people on the ground, for the people who are suffering, but they are also very important international, legal issues and they need to be studied.  And I think things need to be done in a methodical way.  It doesn’t mean that while a letter is being studied, nothing is being done.  I think quite to the contrary.  As I said, the Secretary-General, as Stefano mentioned, he travelled to the region.  He is on the phone.  And meanwhile the UN’s humanitarian machine is working at 200 per cent to try to bring some support to the people most impacted by the crisis.  Carla?

Question:  There were reports in The New York Times that the people who had beheaded the reporter had offered to spare his life for a ransom of $100 million.  Do you know if that is true, or not, and…

Spokesman:  I have no information on that.  None.  Sylviane?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The question is:  Is there any discussion to send, to deploy, international blue helmets to the area of Gaza to stop the fighting between Gaza and Israel?  And, second thing, when was the last time Mr. Ban Ki-moon spoke with the Pope?

Spokesman:  The last time he spoke with the Pope, to the best of my recollection, is when he was in Rome and when I was in Rome with him and not that long, I mean, I can barely remember what happened yesterday.  This was about a month and a half ago.  But the Secretary-General did receive a letter from the Pope more recently, and I’m sure it will be answered.  Evelyn?

Question:   The question is…

Spokesman:  I mean, I think, as you well know, Sylviane, the issue of deploying peacekeeping operations is in the remit of the Security Council and it would have to be a decision by the Security Council.  Evelyn, and then Masood and then Matthew.

Question:  Right.  Is there more to the UNICEF statement that you read, that we can find?  I don’t know what on ISIS, I don’t know what violence against minorities means — killing them, raping them?

Spokesman:  Well, I think it means, yes, yes, there is more, look on the website.

Question:  UNICEF website?

Spokesman:  A, look on the website.  B, what it means is what we have been seeing, which is deliberate targeting of minorities, killing people.  Those are the reports we have gotten, reports of girls and boys being sold into sexual servitude, of mass displacement, threats to people’s livelihoods, and which we have said could very well constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir, and, Stéphane, the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, was on record yesterday that he will not, he will not, what you call, do, I mean respond to any ceasefire proposal by anybody.  So basically given his stance at this point in time, I don’t think the Secretary-General of the international community can do anything.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean.

Question:  Is there anything that can be done?

Spokesman:  You may think it and often when the situation does seem despaired doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying.

Question:  Let me finish.  I’m saying on one side the Palestinians are sitting over there open to talks.

Spokesman:  Masood, we have been, as I said, the Secretary-General will be on the phone today and tomorrow and we are reiterating strongly our call for return to the table, negotiating table.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about in the Central African Republic there are reports of fighting between the residents of PK‑5 neighbourhood of Bangui and the French peacekeepers or soldiers, five killed, 40 injured, and I’m wondering, does the mission there, are they monitoring that, are they looking into how it happened?  What…

Spokesman:  I’m trying to get some information from the mission.  As soon as I have it, I will share it with you.

Question:  And also, the reason, if you could ask them because there have been previous, I’m not saying that is the case in this case but there have been previous encounters which residents said that they were shot and the aggressors were the, “peacekeepers”, and each time it was said that the mission would be looking into this.  But I have yet to hear any kind of report on those, I can name the incidents or you can go back and there has been at least three and whatever happened to those?

Spokesman:  Did you have a chance to ask General Gaye?

Question:  No.  I asked him about DRC soldiers.

Spokesman:  Great.  I will get the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and I will be right back.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.